Concept of Time




Kala : Mystery or Measure  – Raja Ramanna

Smt.Kapila Vatsyayan and very distinguished participants present at this meeting :


It has been given to me the honour of inaugurating this international seminar on “TIME”. However, it is not clear why I have been chosen to give the inaugural address. I will, however, not give an address, but make only a few inaugural remarks. We are going to have many brilliant presentations later and this will be followed by discussions.

This morning we witnessed a very unique inaugural ceremony. I had never seen anything like this before. It has created an atmosphere of seriousness about what we are going to discuss. We have heard for the first time several ancient languages as they should be articulated. There is something mystical about the very sounds of these ancient languages. The drum dance of Manipur, which we witnessed, is an example of tradition which makes the very drum to speak to you. We are very grateful to Kapilaji for this type of inspiring beginning, as something which points to the directions of time. It seems that, in macroscopic studies, “Time” moves only in one direction. However, when one comes to microscopic systems, “Time” becomes reversible and one can even speak of negative time. Why this should be so, is not clear.

With the coming of Relativity, it has now become clear that the measurement of time is not the same for all observers. It depends on the relative speed of the observer, i.e., the measurement of time depends on the physical condition of the observer. This has become necessary to preserve the law of physics unchanged under all conditions, i.e., remain invariant under all circumstances. This is the great contribution of the Theory of Relativity and in its treatment “Time” loses its absolute nature. The fact that different observers have different standards of measurement, especially noticeable when they reach a relative velocity approaching that of light, gives rise to many paradoxes, but all these happen only if the observers have a relative velocity approaching that of light, which, for the human system, does not seem possible.


Quantum cosmology predicts that “Time” itself, as we know it, is of finite origin and came into existence a few billion years ago, when the big bang took place (that is, if it took place at all). The question that immediately follows is, what were things like before the big bang?

This is as far as physics can tell us about “Time”.

Other topics :


  • Natural Law and the individual Event – David Park

  • The Impermanence of Time – J M Malville

  • Further COnjectures on Time – C V Seshadri

  • Kalasakti : The Power of Time – Raimon Panikkar

  • Time — Concet and Context – G C Pande..


Conceptual Analysis of Some Features of our Worldview – Gert H Muller

The man on the road, i.e., we all, man or woman, is confronted with the challenge to survive in this natural and societal surrounding and to come to grips with the world around him and with his personal fate. In his continuous search he has to base his attempts on inputs from the outer world, from his inner experiences and maybe, from illuminations from above. The results of this search known to us through the great mythical views, the leading religions, the early and later world-views and the philosophical systems. As different as they all are in detail some general features and aspects recur therein through the millennia, e.g., monistic, dualistic and pluralistic structures, analogies to phenomena of life, cyclic or uni-directed global process and so on. The role of category TIME is analysed abundantly for specific religions, metaphysical systems and scientific theories and views…



 Geological and Archaeological Time: Some Concepts and their Implications – D.P.Agrawal



Three arrows of time have been recognised. First, there is the thermodynamic arrow of time, the direction in which disorder or entropy increases. Then there is the psychological arrow of time, the direction in which we remember the past and not the future. Finally, there is the cosmological arrow of time in which the universe expands rather than contracts. In this talk, I will confine myself to only thermodynamic and psychological arrows of time as related to geological and archaeological time.


This essay deals with three aspects of geological/archaeological time. In the first part, I discuss the revolutionary changes the modern scientific methods have brought about in our concepts of time as related to the origins of the Universe and man, and how such concepts are conditioned by our cultural traditions. The contrast among the Christian, Hindu and Chinese concepts of time is delineated.


In the second part, I deal with the direction of time as it appears to the early man. How and when the cyclicity of time got straightened out into a unidirectional time is also discussed.


In the last section, I discuss how our concepts of human evolution are conditioned by our ideas of time. Is the tempo of technological evolution exponential or linear? How does one resolve the inexorable fate of the universe moving towards disorder, entropy and heat-death and the evolutionary tendencies toward higher organisation?..




Time in the Cultural Frame of China – Tan Chung


Culture is a human faculty to conceive the natural and social phenomena in our universe, a faculty to assign meaning and significance to them. Men live the world in a triangle framed by time, environment and fortune. For the last many thousand years the Chinese have been making continuous efforts to evolve a benign spiral out of this triangle. Being an agricultural nation, while agriculture is a seasonal vacation subject to the dictates of the meteorological changes in the course of time, China has acquired an early sensitivity for time from time immemorial. This gave rise to Chinese concept of “Tianshi” (Heavenly time) which essentially denotes the weather conditions offered by Heaven to men during their socio-economic pursuits. Even when so conceived these Chinese have determined since ancient times to wrest the initiatives from the dominance of Ehavenly Time like what Mencius (327 289 B.C) said: “Heavenly times are not as beneficial as the earthly resources while earthly resources are not as beneficial as human harmony”.


In this essay I want to project an overview of the Chinese concept of time as has been revealed to usby the last three thousand years of development of Chinese civilization.


In the Confucian classics there is a sensitivity to the force of evolution of time as the Zhouyi (The Zhou version of the Book of Change) begins with the symbol of QIAN which is conceived as “Qianyuan” (The Qian beginning). Comments Zhouyi:


Great is the Qian Beginning when everything is in its nascent stage.  The Heaven unites, the clouds sail and rains drop,


and various categories of beings flow into their shape…



Ritual and the Cosmos – Frits Staal


This essay is chiefly concerned with connection in time and space between ritual and the cosmos. At first sight there appears to be a basic difference: in ritual, time and space are determined by tradition, but in the cosmos, they are discovered by science. On closer inspection, this difference becomes more problematic and complex. There also remains a distinction to be made between real imaginary connections. With respect to all these varieties, an attempt will be made to lay them out before the reader.


Unlike time in the cosmos, which is not getting less mysterious with scientists shedding more light on it, and unlike the complexities of a ritual performed in time by seventeen priests, which are at least bewildering, the temporal background of Vedic ritual is straight forward. This background is exhibited by a hierarchy defined in terms of duration that ranges from the relatively brief haviryajna offerings of rice or barely, via the pasubandha of animal sacrifice, to the lengthy Soma rituals. Among the first category, the most important rituals are the Agnihotra, which is performed every evening and morning, and two others that are named after their equally periodic performance : Darsapurnamasa. “Full and New-Moon ceremonies”, and Caturmasya, “Four Monthly” ceremonies. Each succeeding ceremony in this hierarchy lasts longer than the previous one, and all are presupposed by and incorporated in the Soma rituals which add numerous new features. Most Soma rituals retain one calendrical feature: they have to be initiated during the month of Vasanta or “brilliant season”, i.e., the spring…



The Visioning of Time Kala and Kavi

A study in language Strategy – Chandra Rajan

No altar is strewn, no praise-songs sung in honour of time in the earliest Vedic literature.

The poet-seers (kavi) of the Rgveda speak of the waters as the source of the universe, of Aditi, the boundless infinity that stretches on all sides seemingly encompassing the visible universe and extending beyond it, as Mother of All. They sense an unseen world of primal powers; Adityas (born of Adity), luminous being (devas) whom they look upon as creative powers of might and majesty. The seers vision these as divinities figuring them with glittering metaphors: Indira, Mitra, Varuna, Agni and the bright winged bird, the sun, all of whom the seer Rsi Dirghatmas ses as a aspects of the one in the shape of the unborn. (Rv 1.164.6); as the single creative power.


Ekam sat vipra bahu vadanti (1.164,46)

The one reality the seers speak of as many…


The Flesh and Blood of Time – Lokesh Chandra



Time dwells in the depths of full mind. Deep inside us it interweaves the real and the unreal. Sacred time is the pure becoming, where the time of physics is no longer determinant. It is the flowing onward of the essence of life, a value centre in many principles of being, as we seek to create newer and even individualised eyes. The mind renews itself in the intuition of time. It is the laughter of the gods out of which emerge our newest sensibilities of expanding consciousness. IT brings a polytheistic instinct in a monotheistic thinking. Time is the big and beautiful of human knowledge that comprises the immeasurable infinite, away from the absolute silence concerning the meaning of life. It engulfs man eternally, in a now that has no end. The eternal (sanatana) of the infinite Being is Time that upholds (dharma), the cosmic and human order, the sanatana dharma of India.

Sanskrit has several words for time. The lexicon Amarakosa lists four : kala, dista, aneha and samaya. The word kals is derived from the root kal to calculate, enumerate. In the Atharvaveda and Satapatha Brahmana it is a fixed or right point of time, a space of time, time. It also signifies “time as leading to events (the causes of which are imperceptible to man), destiny, fate”: from a sanctified time to the notion of destiny. The word dista for time is the appointed or assigned moment, fate, death. But disti is “auspicious juncture, good fortune, happiness” in the phrase distya vardhase (you are fortunate, I congratulate you on your luck). The third word, aneha time, basically means “incomparable, unattainable, unmenaced, unobstruccted”. It is the enduring and the permanent in change. The fourth word samaya time” is explained as samyug eti (“appointed or proper time, right moment for doing anything, time”)…



Time (Kala), the Moving Image of Eternity – Seyyed Hossein Nasr



The Time (that has parts) cooks (pacati, matures) all things,


In the Great self, indeed;


But the Comprehensor of That (Time without parts) in which time itself


Is cooked, he knows the Vedas !”



(Hindu saying, trans. A.K.Coomaswamy, Time and Eternity, Ascona, 1947, p.16


[Zeus] designed to make out of eternity a something moving; and so, when He was ordering the whole Heaven (Universe), He made out of that Eternity that ever abides in its own unity a sempiternal image, moving according to number, even that which we have called time.


(Plato, Timaeus, trans. A.K.Coomaraswamy)


From this shore of existence to the other stands the army of oppression,

But, opportunity for the dervishes stretches from pre-Eternity to Post-Eternity



Man lives in the world of change and becoming wherein he experiences time which marks his earthly life and which finally conquers him as it leads him ineluctably to his death. Yet, he is in turn able to conquer time because he has issued forth from the Eternal Order. Man has an innate awareness of Eternity whose notion is deeply imprinted upon his mind and its experience still echoes in the depth of his soul where something remains of the lost paradise which he inhabited before joining the caravan of terrestrial life. The traditional universe is dominated by the two basic realities of Origin and Centre, both of which belong to realm of the Eternal. Man lives a life removed form the Origin on a circumference distanced from the Centre. And it is precisely this removal and distancing which constitute for him the experience of time. He is, therefore, a being suspended between time and Eternity, neither a purely temporal creature nor a being of he Eternal Realm, at least in his ordinary earthly state. That is why all religions focus their teachings upon the question of the relation between time and Eternity as do all traditional philosophies. To understand the nature of man is to become aware of his existential situation as a being belonging to the Eternal Order but living in time which itself cannot but be related to Eternity since all orders of reality are of necessity interrelated…